Carbo loading is not a free-for-all diet plan, but a targeted approach to maximize your body’s potential. Boosting your carbohydrate intake over the course of 3-4 days before an endurance activity, like a marathon, provides extra fuel for your body to compete. Combining this dietary change with scaling down your activity level may lead to improved performance.
EditEstablishing an Eating Schedule
- Talk with your doctor before starting if you have a preexisting condition. As with any exercise or diet plan, it’s a good idea to run it by your doctor before beginning. This is especially true if you have a medical issue, such as diabetes. People with diabetes usually have trouble with major changes to their carb intake and blood sugar levels.
- Increase your carb intake 3-4 days before the event. For these 3-4 days, your calories from carbs should comprise 70-80% of your total calories for the day. Carb loading doesn’t mean that you are eating more calories overall, but just that more of your calories are coming from carbs. If this type of boost seems a bit daunting, give it your best shot. Gradually, with each event, try to move up your total carb percentage until it reaches around 70%.
- Good sources of carbs include pasta, bread, yogurt, beans, corn, peas, rice, milk, potatoes, and cereal.
- Focus on complex carbs for day 1. On the first day of carbo loading, you’ll want to get most of your calories from carbs that aren’t easily broken down, such as whole grain bread or pasta. This will give your body enough time to process and store these nutrients prior to your endurance event.
- Whole grain rice is another great option for a starchy, complex carb.
- Add simple carbs into your diet on day 2. Over the course of the second day of carb loading, start to switch over from complex to simple carbs. The body can break down simple carbs, such as milk products or fruits, quickly for immediate fuel. Do your best to avoid simple carb foods with lots of saturated fats, like cookies, or you might feel sluggish on race day.
- Continue focusing on simple carbs for days 3 and 4. For the days immediately prior to your race, your carb calories should come almost entirely from simple, easily digestible carbs. If you find a particular simply carb food that works for you, such as bananas, it’s okay to make it one of your loading staples.
- Eat 5-6 small meals throughout the day. Stuffing yourself with carbs during three large meals can lead to stomach upset and a general feeling of heaviness. Instead, break down your carb calories into a series of meals or snacks spaced out every 2 hours or so throughout the day. Remember that it’s not necessary to eat more overall, you just need to consume more carb calories.
- For example, three slices of wholegrain toast spread with honey makes for a great carb meal. If you are looking for something even more substantial, try a grilled chicken breast with a bowl of wheat pasta.
- Reduce your intake of higher fat and protein foods while carbo loading. Back away from eating heavy meals combining lots of meats, such as chicken or beef. Also, if a food is high in fat, but low in carbs, it’s best to skip it. Olive oil is one such example. Save your calories for simple sugars that can take up many calories and that your body can easily process, such as honey.
- Avoid trying out new foods. Carbo-loading will already be a pretty severe dietary change for your body. Don’t overtax your digestive system by experimenting with new foods or spices during this 3-4 day period. Instead, stick with carb-heavy foods that you know agree with your stomach, and that will give you the energy to tackle any challenge.
- Expect some weight gain. For an athlete, the prospect of rather sudden weight gain can be disturbing. However, you can be assured that the majority of this weight is due to water retention. As such, it will go away shortly after your endurance event.
- Be prepared for some digestive discomfort. Switching up your diet so suddenly and in such an extreme way may upset your stomach a bit. You can ease some of this discomfort by avoiding high-fiber foods, such as beans, during the carbo loading process.
EditEating Well the Day Before Your Event
- Keep your diet at 70% of calories from carbs. Don’t load up on carbs at the last minute. If you try to eat a ton of carbs the night before or hours before your event, you may suffer from nausea or extreme stomach upset. In fact, this can be so extreme that you might vomit or cramp during your event.
- Eat your last substantial meal 12-15 hours before your race. If your event is in the morning, this means that you’ll want to eat a carb-heavy dinner the night before. This will give your body time to turn those carbs into energy. Many athletes have a particular favorite meal that they prefer, such as a plate of wheat pasta with marinara sauce.
- Eat a small snack 2-4 hours prior to your event. This is just a way to max out your energy levels right before race time. Eat a few rice cakes or a slice of wheat toast with fruit. Pick a snack that will be easy on your stomach yet filling.
- Rest entirely the day before your endurance event. Go ahead and do minimal daily activities, but nothing considered exercise. If you are too active, then you’ll diminish or use up those carbs that you’ve tried so hard to store. Don’t ruin your hard work! If you choose to workout, cut the time down as much as possible.
EditRecovering After Your Event
- Replenish your body’s energy stores during the event itself. After all of your prior planning, it is easy to forget that you need to keep your energy up while completing any endurance event. Try to eat or drink 30-60 grams of high sugar carbs per hour. Sports drinks, for example, both hydrate you and replenish your energy.
- While you are performing the event, watch out for cramping or stomach pains. If you begin to experience these problems, stop for a moment to take a breather. If the pains increase, then you may need medical attention.
- Indulge in a few salty snacks post-race. You may feel a strong craving for a salty foods right after a race or other endurance event. This is because your body is trying to replace all of the salt that you just sweated out. It’s okay to have some mixed nuts or even a bag of chips after your event. Just make sure to wash it down with plenty of water to stay hydrated.
- Eat a carb-heavy meal or snack post-race. After your stomach has settled down, it’s a good idea to begin replenishing your glycogen stores by eating a meal composed primarily of carbs. Again, stick with foods that are easy to digest and that you are familiar with. Be careful not to overeat or you may feel unwell.
- Reduce your carb calories over the next 3-4 days. Don’t immediately rush back to your old diet post-race or you might experience some digestive issues. Instead, gradually reduce your carb calories and replace them with other foods, such as proteins. Keep a close eye on your meals and snacks to make sure that you keep a good balance of simple and complex carbs in your diet.
- Do your best to stay hydrated and avoid alcoholic beverages. Your urine should be pale yellow throughout the carbo loading process.
- If you feel unwell at any point of the carbo-loading process, stop and resume your normal diet.
- Be careful not to simply eat everything in sight. Keep in mind that the goal is not to eat more food overall, but to boost your carb consumption.
EditSources and Citations
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